"Whatever Happened to Captain Rex?"
"Ow," Rex murmured, as he drew back from throwing himself into another of the stubborn hinges. He clutched at his pauldron, and slid his hand underneath to rub at the aching muscle. He grunted a greeting to the exhilarated troopers as they spilled from the cell. All the freed troopers wanted to touch him as if to reassure themselves he was real. He waved them on with a brusque gesture, getting them in line with the others awaiting evac. He couldn't understand what the fuss was about. Rex spun on his heel and headed for the next cell.
It was empty.
He swept his gaze down the corridor and realized they'd cleared the entire block. He turned to leave and and then froze, the hackles on his neck going up. He had the feeling he was being watched-
"Captain!" Leon signaled to him, "we're clear. Let's move."
The commandos circled around the unarmed troopers in a protective formation. The five oh first captain gave one last look around, trying to find the source of his unease.
"Everything alright?" Leon asked over private channel. His voice was taut, and Rex knew he was eager to get moving.
Rex swept his gaze around again and saw only darkness and shadow. Maybe the place was getting to him. He couldn't hold up the group because something didn't feel right. The Jedi were always relying upon feelings and it drove him crazy. He frowned fiercely under his helmet, wrestling with himself.
"Yeah," Rex said, drawing out his twin blasters and signaling he'd provide additional protection from the rear. The commando nodded and took position at the front of the pack.
The recently freed clones formed up into crisp, straight lines and kept pace with the lead commando. As they rounded the first corner, Rex tightened his grip on his weapons. He couldn't shake the sick feeling deep in his gut something was very wrong.
# # #
"So... what's our new plan?" Hugh asked, smug satisfaction evident in his voice. He leaned back against one of the cells in a cocky gesture that was typically Hugh and lazily watched the troopers they'd freed.
A new plan? Tomm stared at his vod. He had no frakkin' idea. He was still amazed they'd escaped an entire horde of Kazzies. Cole gave him an expectant look from where he was still supporting him under one shoulder. He and Hugh were both looking at him like he actually had answers.
Tomm cleared his throat, stalling for time, the sound coming out rough and mechanical through his helmet. "Ah... right... so we've...uh... completed our orders and delivered the weapons."
"Dragged those shabla weapons through the entire fortress," Hugh chimed in as he bragged to Cole. The 212th trooper had the good manners to look suitably impressed.
Tomm rolled his eyes. Just what they needed. Someone to help feed into Hugh's ego. He blew out a sigh, and the sound echoed out roughly in the confines of his bucket. Gah. He was drawing a total blank. He blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "So...now we...uh... find the Captain for new orders."
Hugh cocked his head to the side, thinking it over, and then shrugged. "Makes sense." He jerked his chin toward the newly freed troopers excitedly examining the stash of the weapons, "And, them?"
"We stay together."
Of course. Tomm was sure of that part of the plan.
"So, how do we find the Captain?" Hugh asked.
Tomm projected a 3-D hologrid of the fortress. Cole and Hugh regarded it curiously. Tomm excelled at spatial reasoning. OK, this he could handle. He pointed out key features of the dungeons, seeing everything come together in his mind as he did so. The map immediately caught the attention of Captain Ko. The 212th officer came over, trailed by several other troopers.
"What's our plan, then?" the scarred captain asked.
Tomm gave a crisp nod. He'd found the Captain to immediately likable, and didn't want to mess this up. "We're going to rendezvous back with our main force by the entrance," he began, hoping his voice sounded more confident than he felt. He pointed deep within the map, losing himself in the features of it as his mind worked over strategy. "We need to find the best route through what is likely still Kazzie-occupied territory." His voice deepened in pitch as he warmed up to the topic. "Here's what we know. We entered the dungeons through this access point here." The snowtrooper pointed out the glowing area where they'd dropped through the floor. "We were pursued by the enemy, through these corridors. Here and here." His fingers danced their way through the map leaving a lighted trail. "During the pursuit, I could see firefights here and here, but concentrated in this area. It is the only viable egress point so that's our destination." He tapped the dungeon entrance for emphasis and ran his fingers along the most logical route. "We have weapons. We join in with the fight there, and work our way out."
Captain Ko nodded with satisfaction. "Agreed." He slapped Tomm on the back. "Excellent work, trooper." He turned around smartly, and immediately started barking orders at this squadron. They scrambled into formation, preparing to move out with the adrenaline burst of soldiers who'd been idle for too long.
"Fek," Hugh said laughing, and gave Tomm such an affectionately hard punch to his chest armor. "Brilliant, vod."
Cole shuffled his footing to keep them from falling. "He's right. Not easy to impress Captain Ko."
Tomm opened his mouth to deny it. He wasn't brilliant. He was simply Tomm. But, he was interrupted by the arrival of Captain Ko. "You will lead us out," he said, abruptly to Tomm and Hugh, and by default, Cole, then returned back to issuing orders to the others. Hugh and Tomm looked back and forth at each other in astonishment, before working their way quickly up to the front of the line.
"I've never been at the front before," Cole said quietly to Tomm as he helped him quickly to the head of the line.
Tomm didn't want to admit that he was always at the back of a long line of other snowies himself. He gave a respectful nod to Ko as he moved into place, and he and Hugh together gave the signal to move out. They set a brisk pace, Cole helping Tomm move quickly along. Hugh looked back over his shoulder at the long line of troopers behind them, and did it again a few minutes later.
Tomm mumbled to him over private comms, "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"
"Fek, yes," Hugh admitted, the grin easy to hear in his voice.
Tomm couldn't resist the temptation of looking back over his shoulder and checking out the view. He sucked in his breath and knew he'd never forget the sight. Even unarmored and half-dressed, the determination in the eyes of every vode was unmistakable. They marched in crisp lines with perfect precision, every one of them a trooper to the end. He straightened up with pride to be leading this group of vode out of the dungeons. This was his finest moment.
# # #
Ax was nervous. "We haven't run into any Kazzies," he murmured to his brother over private channel as they ran directly behind Leon, guarding unarmed troopers between them.
"No," agreed Drax, his voice breathless from their hard run.
"Doesn't that seem strange?" Ax paused to suck in more air. "Last time we came through this way, the place was thick with them."
"We couldn't have got them all."
"Uh huh," Drax mumbled, his attention focused on the empty cells to the side of them.
Ax frowned, wondering why a bunch of dark shadowy cells were suddenly so interesting. He tried to turn his vod's attention back to the conversation. "Where'd they all go? How could they-"
"Fek, Ax, I don't know!" Drax growled back, whipping his head around to look at his brother in irritation. "Yes, it's farkin' strange the Kazzies have suddenly disappeared. Drop it, alright?" He turned his attention back to the shadows around them.
"Just saying," Ax murmured, defensively. He cocked his head to the side, hearing a sharp noise. It almost sounded like it came from the cells. He glanced over into the dark shadows as they ran past. No, they were empty. He looked ahead to where Leon and Ice were running ahead of them, leading the way. They were safe. They had fekkin' commandos protecting them.
# # #
Ice never saw the Kaz'harian that took him down.
One second the commando was running, guarding the left flank, several steps ahead of Leon. Kelly was guarding the right flank, in an identical position on the opposite side.
It was all over in a micro-second. A dark shadow emerged out of an open cell door swinging a massive club. Ice brought up his blaster to fire and dodged down to avoid the deadly blow. But, he was too late. The massive club smashed into the side of the bucket and he flew through the air from the impact. The sound of shattering Katarn was deafening so close to his ears.
Oh, fek. It takes an incredible amount of force to break commando armor.
The few times Ice had seen it broken, it was always on dead commandos.
Time slowed down to a crawl as he was thrown through the air from the force of the brutal blow. His arms and legs automatically splayed out to brace his body for impact. He heard an odd startled scream mixing in with the Katarn breaking and sluggishly figured out it was his scream. His voice cut off as he slammed into the recently freed troopers with bone-crushing force. His immediate concerns were only with the vode he'd knocked down. His heavy commando armor could inflict serious damage hitting unprotected flesh. It was a weapon in its own right.
And, then he was lying on his side, unable to move, aware of something dripping steadily into his eyes. His HUD blinked erratically as spots closed in on his vision.
"Ice is down!" Kelly shouted. Through his cracked viewscreen, he saw the comforting sight of his brother's blue T-visor. His vod knelt down next to him. "Hang on, Ice."
He tried to say: "Hey, Kelly." He wanted to reassure his brother he was fine. They could all tease him later about how he could knocked on his shebs by the Kazzie. He wouldn't live it down for weeks.
"Kelly, get in position!" Leon shouted.
Ice tried to tell Kelly to get his shebs back into position. He was fine. He'd just had the wind knocked out of him. But, all that came out was a choked moan.
"Get his bucket off and put pressure on that head wound," Kelly shouted to someone out of Ice's eyesight. "Captain, he's hurt bad."
"Kelly, we need you. Get your shebs over here!" Leon barked. Ice could hear the sounds of blaster fire mixed in with slugthrower retorts. Kelly gave him a regretful glance and left, already swinging his DC-17m into place to fire at the enemy. Ice tried to get up and follow him, so he could cover his back. But, he couldn't move. His HUD continued to flash in his eyes in a nauseating pattern. Gah. The electronics were ruined. He could tell in a glance. His fekkin' bucket was ruined.
Two vode came into his line of sight kneeling on either side of him. They were talking quickly back and forth and it took him a moment to realize the conversation was about him.
"Sorry, this may hurt," said the first vod, who had hair that may at one time have been dyed red. They repositioned his limbs into a more comfortable position. It wasn't until that moment that he realized he'd fallen with his arms and legs pinned beneath him. He cried out and the sound came out strangled and not sounding at all like him.
Oh, Nine Corellian Hells. Why did that effin' hurt so much?
"Captain," Kelly's voice, through the comm system, and he sounded worried. Then, Ice realized his vod heard him cry out. He bit his lip, and resolved not to make any sound.
"Focus, Kelly." Leon was using the harsh no-nonsense tone he did when they were up to their shebs in heaps of trouble.
Ice tried to toggle his comm, and tell Kelly he was alright. But, even though he could hear through his comms, he couldn't tell if he was blinking his eyes properly to toggle the fekkin' comm. He groaned in frustration, then cursed himself for making a sound.
"Easy. We've got you," gentle hands worked off his shattered helmet. Ice was relieved to get the flashing HUD away from his face, but agonizingly frustrated to be cut off from his team. There was chaos all around him, and everything still seemed to be in a strange sort of slow motion.
"That's a lot of blood."
Ice frowned and glanced up at the speaker. Underneath two months of facial hair, the trooper had the smooth, unscarred look of a shinie. Gah. Inwardly, he groaned. He wanted his squadmates.
"Shut up, di'kut. Head wounds always bleed like that. Doesn't mean anything."
"Get pressure on that head wound!" Ice was finding it harder and harder to focus, but he was sure the shouted command came from Leon. He tried to find the Captain among all the chaos, desperate for a glimpse of Leon, Decker or Kelly. From his position splayed out on the ground, he could only glimpses of confusion around him.
He needed to get patched up so he could get back out there. A little bacta. A stim. Or two. He'd be good to go. He tried to tell the red one and the shinie where to find his medkit. His commando gear was laid out differently from standard kit. But, all that came out was an incoherent sound suspiciously like a dying Krayt dragon.
Fek it all.
"Hurry it up. He's in pain."
I'm not in pain. Well, sort of, yes... but I'm more karfin' angry at the moment.
"Found it... Here... hold this gauze against his head. I gotta' give him a pain sharp. He's real busted up."
Huh? What? Define 'busted up?'
Someone dropped to a knee beside them. "How is he?"
Ice instantly recognized Decker's voice, and his eyes shot over with relief taking in the reassuring form of his squad mate. His vod would tell him what was going on. He made eye contact with his brother through his T-visor and opened his mouth to get some answers.
"Decker!" Leon yelled, "we need you now and bring Ice's decee!"
"Sorry, vod," Decker's voice was full of regret. "Hang in there, alright?" He tugged Ice's weapon out of his grip and immediately disappeared from sight. Ice groaned and inwardly cursed, frustrated beyond measure that he couldn't move. He knew his weapon was needed to arm more of the clones, but it was his fekkin' decee. He tried to call after Decker, although he had no idea what he was going to say. But, once again, his voice betrayed him. His body was completely and utterly broken.
The Kazzie hadn't hit him. He'd shattered him.
# # #
Thank you to Reulte and laloga for their invaluable beta-reading and feedback on the final chapters of the story.
Since this story is almost over, some of the events that are happening in these final scenes (as you may have guessed) are setting the stage for the sequel.